Dani Shapiro
July 13, 2009

On Doggedness

I have a love/hate relationship with the word doggedness. It means something more than discipline, but also implies a rather dull aspect. Dogged: tenacious, single-minded. Like a dog with a bone. But when it comes to a writing life, I think doggedness is underrated, and belongs on the list of characteristics every writer must ultimately have. I would say some of the other necessary characteristics, in no particular order, are:


I was going to add “a strong constitution” to this list, but that one isn’t strictly necessary. Just preferable, if a writer wants to live a long life. Maturity is helpful too, though I think maturity probably is included in the patience and fortitude departments. But so what do I mean by doggedness? How is it different from discipline? Discipline involves sitting down. Not making breakfast or lunch dates. Not answering the phone. Discipline means that your butt stays in the chair for a certain number of hours each day. Doggedness, on the other hand, involves staying the course. Putting on blinders to all that distracts you. Chewing and chewing on an idea like–yes, like a dog with a bone. Okay, and I hate to say this, but it’s true, and most of us who teach writing won’t publicly admit it–the all the doggedness and discipline in the world will only get you so far if you don’t have talent. And talent is the thing that can’t be taught. Craft can be taught, yes. But talent is ineffable. It’s either there or it isn’t. And some people have more of it than others. I’ve seen writers with buckets full of talent throw it over because they don’t have the discipline or the fortitude or the doggedness. Or–and perhaps this belongs on the master list too — the DESIRE. The burning, mad desire to do this thing, to organize words on the page until they form a picture. Until they make a kind of greater sense than you had even intended.

But one last thing about doggedness. In Ted Solotoroff‘s great essay “Writing in the Cold: The First Ten Years” he wonders where some of his most talented students have gone. Why he never sees their work in print any more. Why they seem to have disappeared. Perhaps writing in the cold was too much for them. They were talented, and determined. Certainly they had once been in the hands of a great teacher. Doggedness might have come in handy for Solotaroff’s students. If the talent is there, the discipline, the willingness to stand a thousand small insults, the desire to be alone in a room creating, creating — then add a small dollop of doggedness, and from that, maybe, just maybe, a lifetime of writing will emerge.